MADISON, Wis.— Big Ten cellar dwellers Wisconsin and Northwestern have had their share of rough games this season. Northwestern (7-11 overall, 0-7 Big Ten) has had a multitude of injuries and Wisconsin (8-9, 2-5) has shown little confidence on the road and lost heart-breakers at home. Someone had to win and with tenacity, aggressiveness and confidence, the Badgers trounced the Wildcats Sunday for a 69-53 win.
Northwestern, coming off overtime losses to Indiana and Michigan State, simply could not keep up with the Badgers and floundered after a quick start. With sophomore forward Jordan Wilson leading the way, Wisconsin countered Northwestern's first five points with 11 unanswered points of its own. Wilson had a career-high 15 points, including six on Wisconsin's early run. Senior center Emily Ashbaugh also stood out, contributing 10 of her 14 points in the first half.
"I thought [Jordan] Wilson and [Emily] Ashbaugh did us in in the first half," Northwestern coach June Olkowski said. "They did a nice job of pounding the ball inside. … They were scoring and we struggled finding the basket. In the second half we played a little more aggressive and went to the line and did some inside-out stuff. But in the first half, they did a nice job of putting us on our heels and pounding the ball inside."
Sophomore guard Ashley Josephson also had an outstanding day, knocking down 6 of 12 shots, including a career-high four 3-pointers, for a team-high 16 points. She also contributed eight of Wisconsin's 43 rebounds, another career high.
"My confidence is there," Josephson said. "I had a few games earlier in the season where I just didn't have my head up and, like, I just wasn't shooting very well. But the past few games, I've been shooting pretty well from the 3-point line and was just able to find the open player, like [junior guard Stephanie Rich] is really looking to penetrate and kick it out to me and it's working, so we'll keep doing it."
As a team, the Badgers shot 48 percent in the first half and 44 percent overall, a vast improvement over their conference-low 39 percent average.
The most astounding statistic, though, is that Wisconsin had only nine turnovers, the second fewest in school history. Typically a thorn in their game, the Badgers were averaging 17.8 turnovers per contest this season.
"Nine turnovers is pretty noteworthy—the second lowest in school history…which is a lot less than in the past," Wisconsin coach Lisa Stone said.
Free throws, on the other hand, continued to be a problem for the Badgers, as they were 16-for-25 from the charity stripe.
"If there's anything that needs to be addressed immediately, obviously it's our free throw shooting, and we'll continue to work on that and prepare for Purdue (Jan. 29)," Stone said.
The Wildcats, meanwhile, struggled in the first half, shooting only 26 percent and entered the locker room with only 15 points. Northwestern kept itself in the game, putting 38 points on the board in the second half and shooting a much-improved 48 percent. With a 19-point lead at the half, though, Wisconsin was beyond the Wildcats' grasp and never led by less than 12 in the second half.
In the loss, junior guard Melissa Culver led Northwestern with a game-high 17 points, including 12 on 4-for-8 shooting from behind the arc.
"I felt we had open looks, we were 5-for-19, shooting 26 percent," Olkowski said of her team's first-half shooting. "A couple of those go in and now you have a different feel offensively. … [Give] credit [to] their defense. They did a nice job to get us to shoot 26 percent in the half. We allowed them to shoot 48 percent and that's a huge difference."
With the game in hand and two minutes left on the clock, Stone substituted in reserves, eventually giving all of her players time on the court . Redshirt freshman guard Margaret Gilmartin, a walk-on from Chicago, earned her first two career points on two well-executed free throws in the final seconds of the game. Stone was impressed with the way her reserves performed.
"We finished the game with people that don't get as many minutes without turning it over," Stone said. "That says a lot about our entire ream, and in particular our reserve players."
Score by half
Northwestern - (Field goals-Free throws-Points) - Melissa Culver (6-1-17), Ifeoma Okonkwo (3-5-12), Sarah Kwasinski (5-1-11), Alex Mueller (3-0-6), Breanne Smilie (2-0-4), Michelle Zylstra (1-0-3). Totals: 20-7-53
Wisconsin - (Field goals-Free throws-Points) - Ashley Josephson (6-0-16), Jordan Wilson (5-5-15), Emily Ashbaugh (7-0-14), Stephanie Rich (3-2-9), Ebba Gebisa (2-2-6), Annie Nelson (0-3-3), Margaret Gilmartin (0-2-2), Lello Gebisa (1-0-2), Abby Simmons (0-1-1), Erin Olson (0-1-1). Totals: 24-16-69.
Three point goals - Northwestern 6 (Culver 4, Zylstra, Okonkwo), Wisconsin 5 (Josephson 4, Rich).
Rebounds - Northwestern 26 (Okonkwo 8), Wisconsin 43 (Wilson 12).
Assists - Northwestern 14 (Okonkwo 5), Wisconsin 17 (Wilson 5) Turnovers - Northwestern 13 (Kwasinski, Sarah McCarthy 3)
Blocks - Northwestern 0, Wisconsin 6 (Rich, L. Gebisa 2) Steals - Northwestern 3 (Mueller 2), Wisconsin 7 (Josephson, Ashbaugh 2) Fouls - Northwestern 21, Wisconsin 14. Fouled out - Okonkwo (NU).
Points - in the paint: Northwestern 24, Wisconsin 28 - Off turnovers: Northwestern 11, Wisconsin 12 - Fast break: Northwestern 0, Wisconsin 2 - Bench: Northwestern 6, Wisconsin 9 - Second chance: Northwestern 8, Wisconsin 10. Ties - 0. Lead changes - 1.